Amelia couldn't help but agree. In her experience scholarly men such as her father were pale from spending much of their time indoors, and they had paunches and spectacles and rumpled, tweedy appearances. They were hot exotic young men who looked like pagan princes and had gold rings and tattoos.
"Miss Hathaway," Lord Westcliff said, "to my knowledge, there hasn't been a Ramsay in residence in nearly a decade. I find it difficult to believe the house is habitable."
"Oh, it's in fine condition," Amelia lied brightly, her pride rising to the fore. "Of course, some dusting is needed—and a few minor repairs—but we are quite comfortable."
She thought she had spoken convincingly, but Westcliff looked skeptical. "We are having a large supper at Stony Cross Manor this evening," he said. "You will bring your family. It will be an excellent opportunity for you to meet some local residents, including the vicar."
A supper with Lord and Lady Westcliff. Heaven help her.
Had the Hathaway family been well-rested, had Leo been a bit further along on the path of sobriety, had they all possessed suitable formal attire, had they been given enough time to study etiquette... Amelia might have considered accepting the invitation. But as things were, it was impossible. "You are very kind, my lord, but I must decline. We've only just arrived in Hampshire, and most of our clothes are still packed away?
"The occasion is informal."
Amelia doubted his definition of "informal" matched hers. "It's not merely a matter of attire, my lord. One of my sisters is somewhat frail, and it would be too taxing for her. She needs a great deal of rest after the long journey from London."
"Tomorrow night, then. It will be a much smaller affair, and not at all taxing."
In light of his insistence, there was no way to refuse. Cursing herself for not staying at Ramsay House that morning, Amelia forced a smile to her lips. "Very well, my lord. Your hospitality is much appreciated."
Rohan returned, his breath quickened from exertion. A mist of sweat had accumulated on his skin until it gleamed like bronze. "Right on course," he said to Westcliff and Swansea. 'The stabilizing fins worked. It landed at a distance of approximately two thousand yards."
"Excellent!" Swansea exclaimed. "But where is the rocket?"
Rohan's white teeth flashed in a grin. "Buried in a deep, smoking hole. I'll go back to dig it up later."
"Yes, we'll want to see the condition of the casing and the inner core." Swansea was red-faced with satisfaction. He used a handkerchief to blot his steaming, wrinkled countenance. "It's been an exciting morning, eh?"
"Perhaps it's time to return to the manor, Captain," Westcliff suggested.
"Yes, quite." Swansea bowed to Amelia. "A pleasure, Miss Hathaway. And may I say, you took it rather well, being the target of a surprise attack."
'The next time I visit, Captain," she said, "I'll remember to bring my white flag."
He chuckled and bid her farewell.
Before turning to join the captain, Lord Westcliff glanced at Cam Rohan. "I'll take Swansea back to the manor, if you'll see to it that Miss Hathaway is delivered home safely."
"Of course," came the unhesitating reply.
"Thank you," Amelia said, "but there's no need. I know the way, and it isn't far."
Her protest was ignored. She was left to stare uneasily at Cam Rohan, while the other two men departed.
"I'm hardly some helpless female," she said. "I don't need to be delivered anywhere. Besides, in light of your past behavior, I'd be safer going alone."
A brief silence. Rohan tilted his head and regarded her curiously. "Past behavior?"
"You know what I? She broke off, flushing at the memory of the kiss in the darkness. "I'm referring to what happened in London."
He gave her a look of polite perplexity. "I'm afraid I don't follow."
"You're not going to pretend you don't remember," she exclaimed. Perhaps he had, kissed so many legions of women, he couldn't possibly recollect them all. "Are you also going to deny that you stole one of my bonnet ribbons?"
"You have a vivid imagination, Miss Hathaway." His tone was bland. But there was a flare of provoking laughter in his eyes.
"I have no such thing. The rest of my family is steeped in imagination—I'm the one who clings desperately to reality." She turned and began to walk at a brisk pace. "I'm going home. There's no need for you to accompany me."
Ignoring her statement, Rohan fell easily into step beside her, his relaxed stride accounting for every two of hers. He let her set their pace. In the openness of their surroundings, he seemed even larger than she had remembered. "When you saw my arm," he murmured, "the tattoo ... how did you know it was a pooka?"
Amelia took her time about replying. As they walked, the shadows of nearby branches crossed their faces. A red-tailed hawk glided across the sky and disappeared into the heavy wood. "I've read some Irish folklore," she finally said. "A wicked, dangerous creature, the pooka. Invented to give people nightmares. Why would you adorn yourself with such a design?"
"It was given to me as a child. I don't remember when it was done."
"For what purpose? What significance does it have?"
"My family would never explain." Rohan shrugged. "Perhaps they might now. But it's been years since I've seen them."